Before the peace between the Aesir and the Wanes was made, and before the seats of the Gods had been built up again, a strange being came before the assembly of the Gods. "I know what is in the mind of Oithin," he said. "He would make strong and splendid his city here. I cannot build halls that are beautiful. But I can build great walls that can never be overthrown. Let me build a wall around Asgarth."
"How long will it take you to build a wall that will go around Asgarth?" the Oithin All-Father asked him.
"A year, O Oithin," said the Stranger.
Now Oithin knew that if a great wall were built around it, the Gods would not have to spend all their strength defending Asgarth from the Giants. He thought that no payment that the Stranger could ask would be too much for the building of the wall. The Stranger swore that in a year he would have the great wall built. Then Oithin made oath that the Gods would give him what he asked in payment if the wall was finished to the last stone in a year from that day.
The Stranger went away and came back on the morrow. It was the first day of summer when he started work. He brought no one to help him except a great horse. Now the Gods thought that the horse would do no more than drag blocks of stone for the building of the wall. But the horse did more than this. He set the stones in their places and mortared them together. And day and night, by light and dark, the horse worked; soon a great wall was rising around the halls that the Gods themselves were building.
"What reward will the Stranger ask for the work he is doing for us?" the Gods asked one another.
Oithin went to the Stranger. "We marvel at the work you and your horse are doing for us," he said. "No one can doubt but that the great wall of Asgarth will be built up by the first day of summer. What reward do you claim? We would have it ready for you."
The Stranger turned from the work he was doing, leaving the great horse to pile up the blocks of stone. "O Oithin, Father of the Gods," he said. "The reward I shall ask for my work is the sun and the moon, and the Goddess Freyja for my wife."
When Oithin heard of this price he was terribly angered. He went amongst the other Gods who were then building their shining halls within the great wall, and he told them what reward the Stranger had asked for. The Gods said, "Without the sun and moon the world will wither away." And the Goddesses said, "Without Freyja all will be gloom in Asgarth."
They would have let the wall remain unbuilt rather than let the Stranger have the reward he claimed for the building of it. But one who was in the company of the Gods spoke. He was Loki, a being who only half belonged to the Gods; his father was the Wind Giant. "Let the Stranger build the wall around Asgarth," Loki said, "and
[paragraph continues] I will find a way to make him give up the hard bargain he has made with the Gods. Go tell him that the wall must be finished by the first day of summer, and that if it is not finished to the last stone on that day, the price he asks will not be given him."
The Gods went to the Stranger and they told him that if the last stone was not laid on the wall by the first day of summer, neither the sun nor the moon nor Freyja would be given him. And now they knew that the Stranger was one of the Giants.
The Giant and his great horse piled up the wall more quickly than before. At night, while the Giant slept, the horse worked on, hauling stones and laying them on the wall with his great forefeet. And day by day the wall around Asgarth grew higher and higher.
But the Gods had no joy in seeing that great wall rise higher and higher around their halls. The Giant and his horse would finish the work by the first day of summer; then he would take the sun and the moon away, and take, too, Freyja, who had come to them from the Wanes, and whom all in Asgarth loved.
But Loki was not disturbed. He kept telling the Gods that he would find a way to prevent him from finishing his work, and thus he would make the Giant forfeit the terrible price he had led Oithin to promise him.
It was three days to summer-time. All the wall was finished except the gateway. Over the gateway a stone was still to be placed. And the Giant, before he went to sleep, bade his horse haul up a great block of stone so that he might put it above the gateway in the morning, and so finish his work two full days before summer.
It happened to be a beautiful moonlit night. Svathilfari, the Giant's great horse, was hauling the largest stone he had ever hauled, when he saw a little mare come galloping towards him. The great horse had never seen so pretty a little mare, and he looked at her with surprise.
"Svathilfari, slave," said the little mare to him, and went frisking past.
Svathilfari put down the stone he was hauling and called to the little mare. She came back to him. "Why do you call me 'Svathilfari, slave'?" said the great horse.
"Because you have to work night and day for your master," said the little mare. "He keeps you working, working, working, and never
lets you enjoy yourself. You dare not leave that stone down and come and play with me."
"Who told you I dare not do it?" said Svathilfari.
"I know you daren't do it," said the little mare, and she kicked up her heels and ran across the moonlit meadow.
Now the truth is that Svathilfari was tired of working day and night. When he saw the little mare go galloping off he became suddenly discontented. He left the stone he was hauling on the ground. He looked around and he saw the little mare looking at him. He galloped after her.
He did not catch up with the little mare. She went on swiftly. On she went over the moonlit meadow, turning and looking back now and again at the great Svathilfari, who came heavily after her. Down the mountain-side the mare went, and Svathilfari, who now rejoiced in his liberty, in the freshness of the wind and the smell of the flowers, still followed her. With the morning's light they came near a cave; the little mare went into it. They went through the cave. Then Svathilfari caught up with the little mare, and the two went wandering together, the little mare telling Svathilfari stories of the Dwarfs and the Elves.
They came to a grove and they stayed together in it, the little mare playing so nicely with him that the great horse forgot all about time passing. And while they were in the grove the Giant was going up and down, searching for his great horse.
He had come to the wall in the morning, expecting to put the stone over the gateway and so finish the work. But the stone that was to put the finish on the work was not near. He called for Svathilfari, but the great horse did not come. He went in search of him; he searched all down the mountain-side, and he searched as far across the earth as the Realm of the Giants. But he did not find Svathilfari.
The Gods saw the first day of summer come and the gateway of the wall stand unfinished. They said to each other that if it were not finished by the evening they need not give the sun and moon to the Giant, nor Freyja. The hours of the summer day went past; the Giant did not raise the stone over the gateway. In the evening he came before them.
"Your work is not finished," Oithin said to him. "You forced us
to a hard bargain, and now we need not keep it with you. You shall not be given the sun and the moon; neither shall Freyja go with you.
"Only the wall I have built is so strong I would tear it down," said the Giant. He went outside the wall he had built and away from Asgarth. Then Loki returned. He told the Gods how he had transformed himself into a little mare, and how he had led away Svathilfari, the Giant's great horse. The Gods sat in their halls behind the great wall and rejoiced that no enemy could come upon their seats and destroy them. But Thor did not rejoice--Thor, the son of Oithin and Jorth, the champion of the Gods and the guardian of oaths. He spoke in rage about what had been done to cheat the Giant. Oithin did not rejoice: he knew that what had been done would make the Giants their undying enemies, and set them against the Aesir on the day of the great battle.